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updated: 8/23/2012 4:01 PM

A moment in praise of hard-hitting high school football

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Mamas, go ahead. Let your babies grow up to be Cowboys.

Or Bears, Chicago or Lake Zurich.

Or Corsairs.

Or Knights.

Or Bulldogs.

Or Mustangs.

Or Cougars.

"My (young) son's playing football," one high school coach insisted to me. "I'm not scared."

The amount of negative publicity football has taken in the last year has been about as unfortunate as the seemingly growing number of concussions that have so many people wondering if hall-of-fame QB Troy Aikman wasn't right when he said, tongue-in-cheek, that players should go back to strapping on leather helmets.

Rest assured, a leather-helmet-wearing linebacker isn't going to go James Harrison on a wide receiver and lead with his head to make a tackle, cause a turnover or make the ESPN highlights.

"The No. 1 thing that people need to understand is that the helmet is for protection," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "It's not a weapon. We teach that at the high school level."

Former NFL players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, both of whom suffered multiple concussions during their long careers, committed suicide. Tom Brady's dad said, knowing what he knows now about the dangers of head injuries, that he would be hesitant to let his future hall-of-fame son play football if he were making the decision today.

Someone give football a bag of ice to put on that wound.

The bad pub is too bad, really.

When high school football teams throughout the state officially kick off the 2012 season tonight, we'll see again why so many people love this sport. We'll see great young athletes sprint, toss, fire, dive, pursue, catch, tackle, sack, sky, block, stutter-step, stiff-arm, punt, boot.

Some players -- the Direll Clarks, AJ Fishes, Kyle Whitmans and Matt Morrisseys -- you will have heard of before.

Some players will cause you to say, "Wow, who's that guy?!"

Unfortunately, we might also see a player limp or stagger to the sideline.

Injuries aren't new to football. But the more the world learns about concussions and the long-term effects they can have, especially when the jolts to the head start adding up, it makes sense that more moms and dads are thinking twice about signing Little Johnny up for football.

"I guess the one thing that I find offensive is, it's not just a football thing," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "It's a sport thing"

Mills played college football at Brigham Young, and his son, Davis, a former star for Wauconda, will be on his staff this season. Mills had two daughters who played soccer, which is another sport -- like baseball, hockey, boxing and lacrosse -- where head injuries are not uncommon.

"It's good that people are aware of (the dangers of concussions)," Mills said. "It's good that we have data, it's good that we're testing all kids in all of our sports, but it's a sport-wide thing that we should be made aware of. It puts more pressure back on youth coaches, high school coaches, parents and everybody else to make sure that you're teaching proper technique."

Even before concussions became the hot-button topic they are today, football coaches at all levels coached proper hitting position. Poor technique can lead not only to a serious knock to the head but also paralysis.

Some coaches might be stressing proper hitting position even more now.

Head injuries will still happen. But a great game will go on, and great players will continue to be born on football fields right around the corner from where you live.

So, mama, don't pull your 9-year-old son off the field if you see Ray Lewis knock some poor player out cold on Monday Night Football.

"I find it hard to believe that fourth-graders are running into each other with enough impact that it's going to be an issue," one coach said.

One coach told me that one of his players who suffered a concussion might not get medical clearance to play until halfway through the season.

"With all the stuff out there (about head injuries), I'm scared to death to bring him back," the coach said.

Safety and caution are great.

We'll see it again tonight: The game is great, too.

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